A Night Out with the Noise Police
We recently spent a night out with the noise police (or as they are more accurately referred to the “environmental health officers”) on one of their weekend night shifts. We joined them in a predominantly urban local authority area in the south of England (Glasgow have also made account of their own experience). Fewer Councils offer evening and weekend response services due to local authority cuts; a tiny minority work shifts. However, all have to operate some form of service, however limited that may be. You can find your Council service here.
At around 9pm our officer logs on in the office to his PC and does what most office workers do as they start their working day; sips on coffee whilst checking his emails. Unlike many others though, Jeremy has already worked a full week of daytime shifts including today’s, Friday. A handful of officers take turns to operate the weekend “out-of-hours” service alongside their day-jobs; which involve a broader spectrum of responsibilities including pubic health protection, safety inspections and air pollution monitoring.
Amongst the e-mails there are some requests for consultations from the planning department and some licensing applications but these will probably have to wait until next week. It’s the weekend now and, he says, the priority will be responding to call-outs from people suffering from noise. If no calls come in straight away there are some visits listed for ongoing issues, including problems with a couple of bars. Later on, he explains, there are two late-night takeaways that seem to be the focus of anti-social behaviour in the early hours; “if we get the chance, a drive-by would be useful”.
The phone doesn’t take long to light up. Whilst his colleague takes the details, Jeremy explains that, unless there is a serious noise disturbance or an alarm that’s keeping up the neighbourhood, each call is responded to in turn. “How would you know if it is serious?” I ask. “Many you don’t but if a bunch of calls come in about the same place there’s a good chance its disturbing a lot of people”.
Off we go to our first call; one of the officers has been here before. We arrive at a property where the occupant is complaining about noises from upstairs; both flats are tenanted. Before we approach the officer explains how we were to approach the property and instructs me where I should stand once we are inside (next to the exit, which I need to ensure is kept open; where are they taking me I wonder?!). The occupant comes to the front door and the officers insist on him going up the stairs first. The man complains of “humming” noises being made deliberately to antagonise him. He whispers “they are recording everything we say”. Even from the bottom of the stairs the situation seems a little strange. However, the officers give the occupant the respect he deserves and, after five minutes or so, we leave the property. We note that the flat being complained of is in darkness; perhaps the occupants have gone to sleep.
The visit prompts me to ask about the sort of people who they meet. A broad spectrum; it could be anyone, rich or poor. Alcohol and drug issues have always influenced their workload; and they both feel that they encounter more people with mental health issues nowadays than when they started their careers. Their perception is that occupants are encountered more often now in social housing tenancies and wonder whether that is because there is a lack of supported housing. The conversation is cut short by the telephone and off we go to our next visit.
The Noisy Party
A little way into the shift and our sixth telephone call is received; a noisy party. They explain to the complainants that they will intervene and try to resolve the problem. As we arrive it is not hard to see where the party is happening; plenty of people on the street and what must be a pretty big sound system thumping out dance music from a marquee in the back garden. After asking a few guests they contact the occupier who bolts angrily up to the door.
“Who the f***are you?!” and, before the officers can answer, “We told all the neighbours we were having a party and we never have parties”.
“Probably not the ones on the street behind you and the one behind that, which is where we have got complaints from.” The officer waits for a gap in the rebuttal but remains calm. “We are not here to spoil your night. Its 11.30pm so what I would suggest is that you bring the music inside now and bring the level down. In half an hour (at midnight) we then expect the party to take place inside, not outside”.
With some encouragement from his partner the householder reluctantly backs down.
We hang around outside and, to my surprise, the sound level goes down. Jeremy explains that some of the residents often don’t appreciate why having a live band or disco in the back garden might not be such a good idea. The residents of the larger properties, he says, can be just as difficult as any other. These guys have heard it all before: ‘Do you know who I am?’, ‘I pay your wages’, ‘You can’t tell me what to do’, ‘I know my rights’ and, not to mention, the verbal abuse.
Soon after, at midnight, we are stood in a property overlooking part of the town-centre’s commercial area; where there are a handful of bars and pubs. The person complaining of music noise from the bar across the street. The music is just about audible but not intrusive. Jeremy explains that the noise is not loud enough to constitute a nuisance. The occupant is not happy with the response.
“This is a residential area. Why should we have to hear their music every weekend?!” he says.
“This is town centre and, as such, we can’t expect there to be silence”. Jeremy explains to the occupant that there has to be a bit of give and take but leaves the door open by suggesting that they make other visits.
Noise from music venues has been a hot topic for some time now with some blaming overzealous officials for the trade’s demise but these officers, at least, seem to be keen to strike a balance. “None of the premises have later than a 1am licence and it’s already started to quieten down. We are not here to kill off trade, as long as its not to loud and they are acting reasonably then there is little we should do.”As we travel back through the high street we come to one of the takeaways that they planned monitoring; a popular kebab shop. Inside are a few customers. The officers remark that it is unusually quiet but explain that the drizzle started in the last half hour will probably had an effect on the remainder of the partying this evening, “Noise can be a bit like cricket where rain stops play”. I am picking up a sense of relief.
Back to Treble or Base
No sooner are we at one call-out when another comes through on the mobile phone which results in another visit to the other side of the Borough. During the shift we receive 16 calls. We make 8 visits made and barely enough time to swig back a cup of coffee.
Back at base Jeremy explains that all these calls generate paperwork and need to be entered onto our database along with our investigation notes. “I’ll either do this tomorrow from home or leave it until first thing Monday morning. We can then look at each case and see if any warrant any further action”. He notes that there is also a witness statement to write and information to be forwarded to the local housing association. It is past 4am and time to clock-off. However, Jeremy logs on to his computer to email the officers serving on tomorrow’s shift to warn them about one of the properties we visited and action taken just in case they receive a call tomorrow.
Its been an interesting night with the officers who I found to be a really reasonable pair of guys working under some quite difficult circumstances; and far from being the so-called “party-poopers” one might expect of the “noise police”. We walk outside and, keen to get home to bed, say our goodbyes quickly. Its nearly dawn and I notice that the birds have started to make their own noise.